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Modular scrying boards (2007.03.06:1)

Here the vulgar eye will see nothing but Obscurity and will despair considerably.

Scrying is a technique of divination and revelation, of producing visions, perhaps of the future, through prolonged gaze at an object, usually of crystal or liquid nature. Scrying was famously practiced by the 16th century astronomer, mathematician and alchemist John Dee with the assistance of presumed impostor Edward Kelley, using a mirror of obsidian amongst other devices.

The scrying project presents itself as a generic, modular platform for artists and theorists working with both code and electromagnetic phenomena. Of central concern is some kind of intervention within often complex spectral ecologies; for example, measurement of the strength of EM fields, transmission and reception amongst mobile networks of devices, large-scale intervention through the production of high field strength emissions, mapping of intensities and blind city flaneur.

The core platform has been under development for around 18 months, and the hardware is reasonably mature. The focus is on mobility, low power consumption and flexibility. The development of scrying has been driven both by a perceived need for an independent radio and computational platform, for example operating by solar power, and by several artistic projects which will make use of the platform. In the latter case, a focus on code transmission, allowing mobile software modules to interact with spectral ecologies in unforeseen manner, has driven the development of a Scheme programming language interpreter running on the platform. This allows both for interactive development of highly readable code on the core module (comprising microcontroller, memory and power management), in contrast to the usual compile and upload model for most microcontroller platforms, and for code segments to migrate across radio networks.

The platform is currently comprised of a core computational module, outlined above, powered by three AA batteries which can be charged by USB or solar panel. Further working modules, which stack up on the main board, cover 100MHz to 2.5GHz detection and amplification [RSSI], 2.4GHz spectral analysis, GPS measurement and high power, low frequency emission. Projected modules will enable low and high power, high frequency transmission and reception for local networking, FM transmission, and white noise generation. At present the main board has one SMA connection for shared antenna, power connections and off-board serial-USB connection for computer to scrying connection (uploading/downloading software and data). Software for the platform can easily be divided up into three repositories: a core library abstracting access to hardware such as memory, SPI and serial ports, the Scheme interpreter using this library, and an early logging/terminal command application used below. All hardware designs and implementations, and software is published under the GPL.

In the context of the scrying Gijon walk, the platform was used with a simple logging software to map broad spectrum EM field strength within the centre of (old) Gijon surrounding the Pelayo statue. An attempt was made to access both the past and future of this site through speculative appropriation of the techniques of geophysical archaeology and a relation to Burrough's cut up/Hugh Everett's theory of Many Worlds. In practical terms a broadband log periodic antenna was attached to a scrying board equipped with GPS and wide spectrum signal strength board. The platform was attached to the laptop and minicom serial communication software was used to issue logging commands and to make sure the GPS had locked to a signal. The laptop was detached and the board and both local and GPS antenna was carried in a spiral walk around the main square in the rain for around twenty minutes. At this point the laptop was re-attached and minicom again used to download the logged data (position and field strength) to the laptop. The data was cleaned up or massaged, to match a format suiting the gnuplot analysis software and a 2D representational graph of field strength against position was constructed using both GNU Emacs and gnuplot. Rough correlations between the perceived physical structures (a large fountain) and environmental issues (presence of cars surrounding the fountain), as well as possible discovery of several underground fish salting and farming chambers (from Roman times) were also discussed.

See: http://www.scrying.org

Further references:

code

hardware

scrying_notes

HOWTO

gijon

walk documentation

The scrying platform is supported by Arts Council England.

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see also schematics, atmegascheme, cpu, lispcpu